Kiley Cruse, SCA Field Crew Member
Hitch season marks the true beginning for field crew members at SCA NH Corps. Hitches are projects in which field crew members are sent to a state park or national forest for eleven days at a time to complete the work assigned. Field work consists of a wide variety of projects from general trail maintenance to specialized carpentry projects. Our hitch season includes eight hitches with three teams of field crew members going to different locations for each project. During this current season I have done five hitches including projects focused on carpentry, rock structures, and new trail construction.
White Mountains National Forest: Rock Staircase Construction
During our most recent hitch, I was sent to the White Mountains National Forest where my team was tasked with building a rock staircase to enhance the trail. This was my first hitch where I was able to experience and learn what rigging entails. Rigging is used for most rock work in the field due to the mass of the rocks. We used the rigging equipment by attaching one part to a sturdy tree and then the other end is attached to the rock we are trying to move into place. Out of all the hitches I’ve done, rock work is definitely the most labor intensive.
Day 1- Choosing Rocks
To begin the project, we had to decide which rocks in the local area we thought would work well for steps in the staircase. To determine this, we were looking for rocks that had a very flat side with a big enough surface area to step comfortably onto it leaving room for the next step to overlap slightly. At the end of the first day, we finished by collecting six rocks that we thought would make adequate steps in a staircase. The rocks were attained by nudging them out of the ground using rock bars. After the rocks were suitably uplifted from their holes, we would wrap slings around them in order to hook them up to the rigging equipment. Once attached to the rigging equipment we were able to crank a lever that tightened the line from the tree to the rock forcing the rock forward.
Placing Stable Steps
Over the next few days, we pulled the collected rocks into place using the rigging equipment. In order to achieve the exact position, we wanted each rock in we would dig the ground out slightly for the first few rocks to allow them more stability. After digging the ground out we packed the empty hole in with crush before placing the rock into the hole. Crush is the term we use for crushed rock that is roughly the size of gravel. We typically assign one of our crew members to work on making crush for the day until they want to trade jobs. To make crush we collect rocks that are easy to carry but typically slightly larger than the size of a hand. We then place this rock on another larger rock that is stable in the ground, and we use a double jack to hit the rock thus creating crush.
What are Gargoyles?
After the rock steps were set in place, we began gathering rocks to be placed alongside the staircase. These rocks are called gargoyles, and they are used to deter people from wanting to step off of the staircase. To set the gathered rocks we placed crush underneath them. Once all of our gargoyles were set, we brushed in behind the gargoyles with sticks and dead wood to clarify the staircase should be used instead of a different path. Finally, there is an accessible staircase to help enhance the trail that should last for decades.
Rock work and other trail maintenance skills can be very technical and requires training due to the natural danger related to the activity. These skills that are gained through a trail crew experience might be a lot of hard work, but they are excellent skills that can be easily transferable to other areas of your life. It’s also a very meaningful experience to be part of a project that allows many outdoor enthusiasts to explore our trails, while respecting the environment around it. If you are interested in opportunities like this, check out the SCA NHCC website. Applications for the 2024 season will be posted in early December!